Monday, July 6, 2009

U.S. Outdoor: about to jump the shark?

Three stories of camping, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and rock climbing—all crammed into a busted down historic building in downtown Portland.  Sort of like a Powell’s books for lovers of the Northwest outdoors.

I hadn’t been in for a while, so while downtown recently, my wife and I decided to jump inside and see the latest in excellent and affordable gear.  The top floor had always been our favorite: a huge selection of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and all the cooking and packing gear you could imagine.  Seems like every time we went in, we’d find something we really needed for an unbelievable deal: snowshoes for $90, a Gregory multi-day pack on sale for $125, a killer pair of gore-tex full boots for $100.

But what was this?  The top floor turned into a skate shop?  And not really a skate shop, but more a showcase of the latest skate-wear?  Back down on the main floor we looked around, virtually everything on the floor had been moved out in favor of expensive clothing!  A bit frantic at this point, we went to the lowest and final floor.  Here at least was the last redoubt of US Outdoor’s outdoor gear.  A small collection of bags and backpacks, a couple of tents.  A quarter of the room is dedicated to shoes, most of which are various colors of Keens.  Stuffed into the corner: a couple of ropes and some miscellaneous rock climbing gear.

I shed a tear for my beloved US Outdoor.  I knew it would come, sooner or later, just as it does to all excellent gear outlets.  It happened first to Eddie Bauer, which believe it or not used to sell both cheap and excellent outdoor clothing and gear.  Somewhere in the 90’s it decided that there was no money in gear or in cheap clothing, so they decided to become the Gap’s little sister.  Then it happened to REI.  Once a manufacturer of some of the best (and most affordable) gear on the planet, it too embraced the siren call of Abercrombie and Fitch, becoming hip, trendy, and spendy.  I have to wonder if any of the people who visit REI have ever gotten their boots muddy?  Here closer to home, G. I. Joe’s gave up the reliable, rugged, and affordable a decade ago for the trendy and spendy; they also recently closed their doors forever.

I suppose I’ll have to start looking for somewhere to buy decent gear.  Is it really that a business cannot be run on the premise of affordable outdoor adventure gear?  I have money in my pocket, waiting to stumble into your store.


Anonymous said...

How about Sportsman's Warehouse? Or Wholesale Sports or whatever it's called now. That place has become just depressing to go into. I bought some ammo for a birthday gift for a friend (yeah, I know, I found ammo for sale that I actually wanted. I thought it was a miracle, too, even though it was 50% more than I would have paid a year ago) and they bagged it up in one of those flimsy convenience store white bags with a red flower on it and "Thank You" written in red cursive. All I could think was Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite saying, "man, we gotta look legit."

I guess I'll just continue to roll the cheap outdoor gear dice on Steep and Cheap. Sure, half the time it's women's ski tops, but the other half there's cool stuff. Ask me about my CRKT knife I scored off there for $20 that retails for $89.99.


Jake Shore said...

Lame. You'd think with the economy the way it is, a business could make a killing with affordable gear. Cabela's would be cool if they had one near here, but I think they've gone big time too. Does this mean I will have to start buying my outdoor gear at Target?

Anonymous said...

They did just open a Cabela's near here, and by near here I mean north of Olympia.

I actually saw some good deals on outdoor gear at Target. It was back by school supplies and dandruff shampoo.